An Australian court has acquitted Hillsong church co-founder and former global senior pastor Brian Houston in a longstanding sex abuse cover-up case surrounding his father, the late Frank Houston.
On Thursday, Sydney Court Magistrate Gareth Christofi found Houston not guilty of covering up his father's sex abuse crimes, ruling that Houston had a reasonable excuse for not reporting his father to the police.
"The Crown submits that the reason was that the accused was trying to protect the reputation of the church and his father," Crown Prosecutor Gareth Harrison said during his closing arguments in the trial.
Frank Houston, a former Assemblies of God minister in New Zealand, had sexually assaulted a young male in the 1970s. He later moved to Australia in 1977 and founded the Sydney Christian Life Centre, which Brian Houston eventually took over and combined with Hillsong, Religion News Service reports.
Houston, 69, was charged with concealing a serious indictable offense of another person, in this case, his father. According to court documents, Houston knew of his father's abuse as early as 1999 but never shared that information with the police.
Authorities also accused Houston of allowing his father to retire quietly after becoming aware of the abuse allegation. Frank preached at other churches until nearly his death. As previously reported by the Associated Press, Frank confessed to his crime before passing away in 2004. He was 82.
Harrison contended that Houston ensured that his church and the victim, Sengstock, would cover up his father's abuse. The magistrate also noted that Houston had used suggestive language in softening the crime when he disclosed that information to Hillsong.
While the defense argued that Houston had a reasonable excuse for not reporting his father's sexual abuse since Sengstock told him he did not want to go to the police, Attorney Phillip Boulten argued that by not disclosing the crimes, the police also protected Frank Houston's reputation and Hillsong's.
"Just because it was convenient for it not to be prosecuted, my client is not without reasonable excuse. Brett Sengstock said he did not want it to be reported," Boulten said.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.